Not one to shy away from making a strong comment when he is not on air, former India captain Sunil Gavaskar was recently quoted as saying that he does not think Mahendra Singh Dhoni will make a comeback to international cricket. Time, he said, was not in Dhoni’s favour.

Dhoni last played a competitive match in India’s World Cup semi-final defeat to New Zealand last July, and Gavaskar believes the 38-year-old’s days in national colours are done and dusted.

“I would definitely like to see Dhoni in India’s World Cup squad but it’s highly unlikely that it is going to happen,” said Gavaskar. “The team has moved on. Dhoni is not someone to make big announcements so I reckon he would silently retire from the game.”

Gavaskar’s assessment is one of a zillion takes on Dhoni’s future in international cricket. Ever since he went home after that World Cup semi-final defeat in England, the wicketkeeper-batsman hasn’t spoken a word in public regarding his retirement plans. None with clarity, anyway.

Dhoni stopped playing Test cricket in 2014 and it didn’t come as a surprise that he chose to not take part in the recently-concluded Ranji Trophy. But what did come as a surprise was his absence from the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (T20) and the Vijay Hazare Trophy (50-over) – Indian cricket’s premier white-ball tournaments.

It was clear by the end of both these tournaments, on December 1 last year, that the only way Dhoni could make it to India’s T20 World Cup 2020 squad was by proving his mettle in the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League.

This, without a doubt, was a contentious approach, as between the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup and the scheduled start of IPL 2020, there would have been a gap of 264 days where Dhoni wouldn’t have played a single competitive match. Also, it could be reasoned that the IPL doesn’t offer the best platform to judge a player’s form. After all, Dhoni was in great touch during the 12th edition but struggled for rhythm soon after during the World Cup in England.

Debate: Should one good IPL season let Dhoni walk back into the India team for the T20 World Cup?

Despite all this, Ravi Shastri, the head coach of the Indian cricket team, was quoted as saying on January 9 this year that Dhoni’s form in IPL 2020 would definitely be considered while picking the squad for the T20 World Cup.

“At his age, I think probably the only format that he would want to play is T20 cricket,” Shastri had said. “He’s definitely going to play the IPL, We’ll see how his body reacts. It all depends on when he starts playing and how he is playing during the IPL. What are other people doing with the wicket-keeping gloves or what is the form of those players as opposed to Dhoni’s form. The IPL becomes a massive tournament because that could be the last tournament after which more or less your 15 players for the T20 World Cup are decided.”

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic putting IPL 2020 in limbo, there is once again a big question mark over Dhoni’s future in international cricket.

The Covid-19 disease is spreading at a rapid rate with each passing day, leading to sports across the world coming to a standstill or getting postponed. The IPL is no exception to this as the tournament stands suspended at the very least till April 15. All these suspensions and postponements mean there is likely to be major struggle to figure out the sporting calendar if and when the outbreak slows down.

And it all only adds to the uncertainty around Dhoni’s future.

Uncertainty galore

The global situation as of now with regards to the coronavirus suggests that we could be in for a lengthy lockdown. This could have a number of ramifications on the cricket calendar. Will the T20 World Cup be able to begin on its scheduled date of October 18, or will it be pushed to next year? Will the 13th edition of the IPL be played before or after the T20 World Cup?

If IPL 2020 does happen before the T20 World Cup, Dhoni’s status will most-likely remain the same. A delay of a few months isn’t likely to be enough for the selectors and team management to change its outlook towards the former captain. But if the World Cup is rescheduled to next year, there is a chance we have seen the end of Dhoni’s international career.

The two-time World Cup-winning captain has stopped making himself available for bilateral series. He seemed to be relying entirely on IPL 2020 to return to the Indian team but if the T20 World Cup is postponed, he may have to feature in other series as well if he harbours dreams of making a comeback. And that seems to be a long stretch, since age is not on his side and the fact that the selectors have been saying since a while now that they are looking to groom youngsters.

When the confusion was at its peak after the 2019 World Cup, who would have thought that Dhoni’s future in international cricket could get even more ambiguous? But as of now, with the lockdown, it most-certainly is.

Where do you stand on the Dhoni debate? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.